Hidden communities of practice in social media groups: Mixed methods study

Academic Article


  • Background: Although most US mothers initiate breastfeeding, suboptimal breastfeeding rates still exist. Although breastfeeding is a complex process, social support has been linked with increases in positive breastfeeding outcomes. Recent technological advances, including the development of social networking sites, provide mothers with convenient access to a unique array of audiences from which to seek advice about parenting, including breastfeeding. However, little is known about how the use of the sites—specifically groups centered around breastfeeding—influences breastfeeding knowledge, attitudes, or behaviors. Objective: This mixed methods study aimed to explore utilization of an existing probreastfeeding Facebook group and how utilization influences breastfeeding-related knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors. Methods: Participants were recruited online through Facebook wall posts from within the existing group. Mothers aged between 18 and 50 years who were pregnant and intended to breastfeed, were currently breastfeeding, or had recently weaned their infant in the past 3 years were eligible to participate. Participants engaged in online focus group discussions (n=21) and individual interviews (n=12). Inductive content analysis of qualitative data led to the conceptualization and contextualization of a breastfeeding community of practice (COP). Using qualitative results, a quantitative survey was then developed to assess the prevalence of qualities of a COP as well as how COP usage influenced breastfeeding-related attitudes and knowledge. A total of 314 mothers completed the online survey. Results: Qualitative findings showed an overall sense of community, with subthemes of group trust, interaction, and the promotion of breastfeeding. A majority (287/314, 91.5%) of mothers initiated breastfeeding, with 69.0% (216/314) of mothers reporting exclusive breastfeeding their infant at 6 months. Approximately 98.5% (309/314) of mothers reported that the Facebook group captured and stored knowledge; therefore, information could be easily accessed and applied. In addition, 96.2% (302/317) of mothers reported that the Facebook group motivated them to share breastfeeding-related knowledge. Conclusions: The results suggest that this existing probreastfeeding Facebook group exhibits characteristics of an online COP, which was organically formed. Utilization of the Facebook group, in the context of an online COP, could be beneficial in impacting breastfeeding-related knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors. However, further examination and exploration of breastfeeding COPs, including using this type of model as a method of lactation support or as a telemedicine framework, is a clear need.
  • Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Skelton K; Evans R; LaChenaye J
  • Volume

  • 3
  • Issue

  • 1